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February 1, 2010

Viewing the new communications technologies as pastoral tools -
How much does the church care about health care reform? -
Faith support for job seekers -
Fostering and contributing to a national dialogue on human dignity.



In this edition:
1. Current issues: The pastoral challenge of unemployment.
2. Assessing unemployment in the light of faith.
3. Support for job seekers.
4. Current issues: How much does the church care about health care reform?
5. Current issues: Recognizing the implications of human dignity.
6. Current issues: Human trafficking and the winter Olympics.
7. Current quotes to ponder:
a) The place for a Catholic wedding;
b) Outreach to pregnant women. 8. Priests invited by pope to consider pastoral potential of new technologies.


1. Current Issues: The Pastoral Challenge of Unemployment

The cause of job seekers worldwide received support from Pope Benedict XVI Jan. 31. In remarks after the Sunday Angelus, the pope weighed in on the unemployment that is part and parcel of the global economic downturn.

While jobs creation is an immense governmental, business and social concern at the moment, apparently it is a large pastoral concern as well, one that engages the church's social teaching, along with the church's desire to protect the health and well-being of individuals and families.

"I echo the call made by the Italian bishops' conference, which has appealed that everything possible be done to protect and increase employment, ensuring that people have jobs that are dignified and adequate to maintain a family," Pope Benedict said.

His comments echoed statements in his encyclical "Truth in Charity" released last July. The encyclical urged its readers to pay close attention to the moral dimensions of the economic crisis. Speaking of the loss of jobs, the encyclical said:

"The dignity of the individual and the demands of justice require particularly today that economic choices do not cause disparities in wealth to increase in an excessive and morally unacceptable manner and that we continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone."

Compared with "the casualties of industrial society in the past," the encyclical said that today's unemployment "provokes new forms of economic marginalization, and the current crisis can only make this situation worse." It added:

"Being out of work or dependent on public or private assistance for a prolonged period undermines the freedom and creativity of the person, and his family and social relationships, causing great psychological and spiritual suffering."

The pope said in the encyclical that he wanted "to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world's economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: 'Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.'"

In his end-of-January remarks, Pope Benedict mentioned job losses stemming from the decision by the automaker Fiat to cease production at a Sicilian plant and from the decision to shut down an Alcoa aluminum plant in Sardinia. "A great sense of responsibility" is needed on the part of business leaders, workers and the government to address the job cuts of the economic crisis," said the pope.

2. Assessing Unemployment in the Light of Faith

In a speech last summer to the First Friday Forum of Lorain, Ohio, retired Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland addressed the economic crisis and the realities of unemployment, saying that "more than ever we are called to open our hearts and minds to those in need." He said that the church and its people are called:

-- "To provide pastoral support and counseling whenever it is required.

-- "To provide practical advice to those who have lost their jobs or their homes.

-- "To walk with our fellow parishioners and manifest solidarity with those who are struggling.

-- "To take actions that address basic needs.

-- "And to inspire actions that promote the common good of all."

The human suffering and economic hardship of the economic crisis resulted in "widespread despair, anxiety and depression among the people of our nation, state and diocese," said Bishop Pilla.

In the course of his remarks, Bishop Pilla pointed to the millions of Americans who live "just above the poverty line, those who manage to get by as long as they can continue to work." There "the specter of unemployment appears with all the harsh realities that follow in its wake," he said.

The moral dimensions of both poverty and unemployment come into fuller view when their "destructive effects on the human person" are taken into account, Bishop Pilla suggested. Poverty and unemployment are not solely "economic or social phenomena," but are "assaults on men and women that crush the human spirit and render the victims ever more vulnerable to almost any of the 'shocks that flesh is heir to," he said.

Addictions and other mental health issues may accompany poverty and unemployment, Bishop Pilla noted. Beyond all that, he said that one must take a measure of the damage that "poverty and joblessness do" to the quality of marriages and family life.

3. Faith Support for Job Seekers

Jesuit Father William Byron wrote about a deacon at a Presbyterian church in California who "runs a support group" for unemployed people - a support group "with a bit of a twist." Instead of "working to help people find a job," the deacon said the group at his church works "on the emotional support of people so that they can more readily be able to find a job."

Father Byron, an economist and former Catholic university president, writes a column for Catholic newspapers that is syndicated by Catholic News Service. His column on job seekers is one of the many he has written that are collected in his new book, "Faith-Based Reflections on American Life" (Paulist, 2010).

Job seekers should "join a group and be persistent," Father Byron advised. He wrote: "Torrey Foster, who ran a church-based support group in Cleveland, used to tell his job seekers to be 'pushy,' but always explained that what he meant by that was 'diplomatic persistence.'"

Stress is a fact of life for unemployed people, Father Byron observed He said, "All ages, both sexes, and varying levels of skill and experience find embodiment in stressed human beings who know how it feels to be out of work and looking or on the job and worrying about becoming unemployed."

The priest-writer encouraged job seekers to know themselves and know how to "plug any holes" in their education and experience in order to make themselves "a better match for new opportunities."

Father Byron said that what all these people need to hear "is this: Don't try to go it alone. Networking is essential. So is spousal support or, if the job seeker is single, support from someone who really cares."

Discouragement is the major obstacle to the job seeker's pursuit, "and the chief antidote to discouragement is persistence," Father Byron said. He added that "religious faith can help. Faith that God is at your side can shore up faith in yourself."

4. Current Issues: Does the Church Really Care About Health Care Reform?

The Catholic Church in the U.S. hopes that health care reform can be achieved on Capitol Hill this year, church leaders made clear in January. The national bishops' conference has specific moral concerns about health care reform legislation, but that does not mean it regards such reform as a fringe issue.

The bishops' criteria for health care reform were raised by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the bishops' Pro-Life Activities Committee, when he spoke in Washington Jan. 21 to participants in the annual March for Life. "Health care reform must protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all, and should not advance a pro-abortion agenda in our country," he said.

Cardinal DiNardo also addressed the issue of health care reform during a briefing with Catholic media Jan. 22 at the headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington. He spoke not only as a USCCB committee chairman, but as head of an archdiocese that he said has "the highest number of uninsured in the country."

"We need health reform," said the cardinal. "We're concerned that there may not be" continued momentum in Congress "to allow more people to be insured," he added.

Cardinal DiNardo, together with Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., chairman of the USCCB Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, and Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the bishops Committee on Migration, sent a letter to Congress Jan. 26 discussing health care reform. The bishops urged the members of Congress "to recommit themselves to enacting genuine health care reform that will protect the life, dignity, consciences and health of all." They added:

"The health care debate, with all its political and ideological conflict, seems to have lost its central moral focus and policy priority, which is to ensure that affordable, quality, life-giving care is available to all. Now is not the time to abandon this task, but rather to set aside partisan divisions and special interest pressures to find ways to enact genuine reform."

In their letter, the three leaders called for health care reform that:

-- "Ensures access to quality, affordable, life-giving health care for all.

-- "Retains longstanding requirements that federal funds not be used for elective abortions or plans that include them, and effectively protects conscience rights.

-- "Protects the access to health care that immigrants currently have and removes barriers to access."

-- Respects "the consciences of providers, taxpayers and others."

Among their concerns in the area of conscience protection, the bishops urged that the freedom health care "insurers, purchasers and sponsors currently enjoy under federal law to offer or purchase health plans that are not morally or religiously objectionable to them" not be lost.

In addition, the bishops' letter said that "restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers" will make health care reform legislation "more acceptable to more people."

The three USCCB committee heads called health care "a social good" and said that "accessible and affordable health care for all benefits individuals and the society as a whole." The bishops support "adequate and affordable health care for all because health care is a basic human right," the letter said.

Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said at the Jan. 22 media briefing in Washington that the challenge of health reform "has shifted enormously in the last week." He said, "We now don't know if there will be a bill at all" and "might have to encourage Congress not to give up on this moral imperative."

Catholic News Service reported that in discussing the bishops' criteria for health care reform, Doerflinger said that in simplest terms, the bishops want to see health reform in which "everyone gets cared for and no one gets deliberately killed."

Sister Carol Keehan, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said Jan. 28 that President Obama was right in his State of the Union Address the previous evening to say to Congress: "Do not walk away from [health care] reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people."

Sister Keehan urged Congress to continue working "toward the goal of health reform that protects life at all stages while expanding coverage to the greatest possible number of people in our country."

In a letter to Congress Jan. 28, the Catholic Health Association urged the House and Senate "to put the needs of our nation's people above political interests and partisan concerns, and continue to work for comprehensive health reform this year."

5. Current Issues: Recognizing the Implications of Human Dignity

Stirring everyone "to hear the call of conscience concerning the implications of human dignity" was vital to the vocation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Bishop Daniel Flores commented Jan. 18 at a Detroit archdiocesan event honoring King's legacy. One of the basic principles King followed was based in his conviction that human life is sacred and that everyone is "somebody because he is a child of God," the bishop said.

Bishop Flores spoke as auxiliary bishop of Detroit, but he was to be installed Feb. 2 as bishop of Brownsville, Texas.

The legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. encompasses a call to regard "matters touching on human dignity [as] matters of the highest import," Bishop Flores proposed. King's legacy suggests, as well, that "we need to have a national discussion about matters touching on human dignity and upon the principles of national moral consensus," the bishop said.

King helped to "form a national moral consensus about the implications of human dignity, and thus about what racial justice requires of human society," said Bishop Flores. He pointed out that this "was not always a tranquil national discussion, but it was a needed discussion. It continues to be a needed national discussion."

Moreover, King felt that "persons of religious conviction have a vital role to play in the unfolding of this national discourse." He was someone, Bishop Flores said, "who felt compelled to stir the national conscience to consider the full implications of our affirmation that human life is sacred and worthy of the full protection of the law."

King's "Christian discourse served to enrich the understanding of an entire society about what it means to be a human being," Bishop Flores said. He added that King also "was a Christian realist. He knew the pain of opposition to the vision of human dignity he sought to uphold."

Numerous contentious issues continue to vex the people of the United States, Bishop Flores observed. He explained:

"To be sure, issues of racial justice still vex our national culture. Issues surrounding the formulation of a just national immigration policy loom anxiously in our time. End-of-life issues perplex us and indeed frighten us. Controversies involving embryonic human life stir great agitation. And surely, to this very brief and incomplete list, we could add the concerns of religious people who work in health care institutions to have their consciences respected in matters touching upon the protection of innocent human life."

Bishop Flores said he thinks "it is singularly important to remember today how Dr. King succeeded in stirring the conscience of a nation to recognize the implications of human dignity and to begin to act accordingly. His Christian discourse served to enrich the understanding of an entire society about what it means to be a human being, endowed with a particular grandeur."

That truth, the bishop added, "is attractive and persuasive in itself, and Dr. King was its servant. May we be its servants as well." (Bishop Flores' speech appears in the Feb. 4 edition of Origins, CNS Documentary Service.)

6. Current Issues: Human Trafficking and the Winter Olympics

Looking ahead to the Feb. 12 start of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada's Catholic bishops urged people to become aware of the relationship between major sporting events and human trafficking. The bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace said in a Jan. 27 statement that human trafficking for purposes of prostitution could likely arise as a moral issue during the Olympics.

Of course, people look forward "to watching some of the world's best athletes compete" in Vancouver, the commission observed. But it said that others, "especially groups involved in the struggle against human trafficking, are worried," realizing that there are those who look to the Olympics as a means of making money and regard this event as an opportunity to do so, "no matter the cost to human dignity and human rights."

Speaking frankly, the commission said: "The fact is that at some major sporting events, systems are often put in place to satisfy the demand for paid sex. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the case during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver."

The commission denounced human trafficking in all forms, whether it is undertaken to provide forced labor for farms and factories or "for sexual exploitation (whether it be prostitution, pornography, forced marriages, strip clubs" or something else). The commission urged Catholics to become aware both "of this violation of human rights" and of "the trivialization of concerns about prostitution."

Human trafficking fosters "institutionalized violence" through what constitutes a form of slavery, the commission said. The sexual exploitation basic to so much human trafficking is a form of "organized crime" that "brings in billions of dollars for pimps and for owners of strip clubs, massage parlors, and legal and illegal brothels. This figure does not include taxes paid to governments that often turn a blind eye to this activity," said the bishops' commission.

"We must become aware that human trafficking is happening in Canada, as it is elsewhere," the commission added. It said, "We need to recognize it, talk about it with others and take action in our communities to stop it."

Moreover, the commission spoke of a need to "recognize that the demand for prostitution fuels the market for human trafficking. Without customers who ask for sexual services, there would be no prostitution, and thus no trafficking."

The commission challenged people to ask how prostitution, which it described as "a form of institutionalized violence that destroys the physical, psychological and spiritual integrity of other human beings," can be tolerated in a nation such as Canada. For, they said, the nation's people consider "equality between women and men to be a fundamental value." Furthermore, "a majority of citizens are Christians who promote the dignity of each person created in the image of God."

7. Current Quotes to Ponder

The Place for a Catholic Wedding: "People can get married in the strangest places, like the Super Bowl. Some years ago I read about a couple getting married while parachuting from a plane with a clergyman in tow. But that is not true of Catholic weddings. When we talk about a 'church wedding,' we really mean it. While church law allows a bishop to grant permission for a wedding in a 'suitable' place other than a church, such permission is rarely given. Marriage in the Catholic Church is not simply a contract between two parties. It is a covenant establishing a lifetime partnership for the good of the couple and for the procreation and education of children. It is a response to the call of God to the vocation of married life. To marry is a significant, sacred and serious act. In order to protect its sacred nature, the church has established a certain form to which marriages must conform." (From a column by Bishop Paul Swain of Sioux Falls, S.D., in the January edition of The Bishops' Bulletin, a publication of the Sioux Falls Diocese.)

Outreach to Pregnant Women: "How often does a woman face an unplanned pregnancy convinced there is little hope for a positive outcome to her circumstances? She may be rejected by her family, abandoned by the baby's father, overwhelmed by the news she has received, unsure of where to find support, anxious about her education, career or future, or facing a combination of those forces. That is where we as a Christian people come in. Among the most powerful testimonies to the culture of life is our outreach to pregnant women in need. This outreach can take a number of forms, but its most direct is through the work of pregnancy resource centers. In Maryland, nearly 40 of these centers together serve about 30,000 women a year. They offer emotional support, childbirth and parenting classes, adoption assistance, infant and maternity clothes, formula, diapers and help accessing public and private assistance programs. These services are offered free of charge and out of deep love and respect for both the expectant mother and her unborn child." (From a statement by the Catholic bishops of Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C. -- all of whose dioceses include parts of Maryland - defending pregnancy resource centers in Maryland against efforts to discredit them for, among other things, not providing contraception and abortion services.)

8. Pope Asks Priests to View New Communications Technologies as Pastoral Tools

The development of the new communications technologies "represents a great resource for humanity as a whole and for every individual," Pope Benedict XVI says in his message for the 2010 World Day of Communications, which is observed May 16 this year in most dioceses. But these technologies likewise represent "a great opportunity for believers," he said.

For priests, the new communications technologies "offer ever new and far-reaching pastoral possibilities," says the pope. His message, released Jan. 23, was tailored to the current Year for Priests.

"Priests stand at the threshold of a new era. As new technologies create deeper forms of relationship across greater distances, [priests] are called to respond pastorally by putting the media ever more effectively at the service of the Word," the pope said. But it is not enough simply "to be present on the Web" or to view it simply as "a space to be filled."

Pope Benedict says that today's priests are "challenged to proclaim the Gospel by employing the latest generation of audiovisual resources (images, videos, animated features, blogs, Web sites) which, alongside traditional means, can open up broad new vistas for dialogue, evangelization and catechesis."

Priests, the pope adds, "will best achieve this aim if they learn from the time of their formation how to use these technologies in a competent and appropriate way, shaped by sound theological insights and reflecting a strong priestly spirituality grounded in constant dialogue with the Lord."

(For another recent discussion in this jknirp newsletter of the new technologies, see the report in our Dec. 15, 2009, edition about a statement from the Australian Catholic bishops' conference regarding what is appropriate in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace by people in pastoral ministry.)